By Kate Linnea Welsh
“Parenting Made Easy” starts with an arbitration in which Lockhart/Gardner is representing Pamela Baker, a professor who was fired and believes it was because she complained about her boss rubbing her shoulders. The boss, provost Daniel Clove, starts by claiming that he fired Baker because of negative student evaluations, but it turns out that the real reason is because she was outspoken about her conservative views. Clove says that the issue is that she was disruptive, regardless of what she was saying, but Lockhart/Garder argues that Baker’s civil rights were violated and that what she said about homosexuality (while defending Santorum!) was religiously-motivated speech rather than hate speech. It almost looks like they’ll win with this – until the defense proves that Baker hid her faith, so Clove couldn’t have known that what she said was religiously motivated. It was nice seeing Lockhart/Gardner representing a conservative, and the show did a good job of portraying her as a real person with firmly held beliefs rather than just as a stereotype or cliché. I also appreciated the way they had the character complaining about sexual harassment turn out to be a religious, conservative Republican, since all too often – especially in recent Herman Cain coverage – our national conversation sees sexual harassment as a pretend issue invented by liberal feminists.
The show also uses this case to remind us that all the characters on the show – including the ones we’ve assumed we won’t see again – live in the same world and intersect in a variety of ways. Alicia initially expects the arbitration to be routine, so she chooses it for Caitlin’s court debut – but it turns out that they’re up against Martha, who was Alicia’s first choice for Caitlin’s job. Martha is holding a grudge against Lockhart/Gardner, which in turn puts more pressure on Caitlin. Martha also ends up calling her boss to come help, and he is none other than Michael J. Fox’s Louis Canning. It seems that Canning and Alicia have developed, if not a friendship, at least a grudging respect for each other’s abilities, and Canning tries to convince Alicia to work for him. (Finally! It had been a whole few episodes since someone was trying to coax Will or Alicia or Kalinda away from Lockhart/Gardner!)
Back at Lockhart/Gardner, Eli isn’t adapting particularly well to life at the firm, and Diane tells him to make friends and share clients instead of trying to do everything himself. He wanders around the halls for a while, and has an awkward conversation with Will, but teamwork is clearly not Eli’s strong point. At the same time, the fact that he is now working out of Lockhart/Gardner’s offices means he’s something of an outsider in Peter’s world as well: when Will mentions the corruption investigation, Eli is shocked and seems upset that he didn’t know about it. Now that he does know, will he try to intervene?
That investigation is continuing, and it still seems that Wendy Scott-Carr is the aggressive one, while Peter is trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to rein her in. I haven’t quite figured out her motivations here. Is she trying to enhance her reputation for a future campaign by bringing down a powerful law firm? Does she have something personal against Will? Is she actually just a true believer? Or a little of all of those? In any case, the investigation provides an opportunity for more of the fascinating Kalinda/Cary/Dana dynamic, as Will asks Kalinda to find out whether the investigation would go away if he “made changes.” (He very specifically does not want her to ask if it would go away if he stopped “being close” with Alicia.) Kalinda has one of her usual flirtatious/threatening conversations with Dana (in which Dana rather hilariously brings up the fact that Cary talks about Kalinda while having sex), and Dana’s reaction is to suggest hiring an independent investigator themselves: Cary’s old friend Andrew Wiley.
Alicia started the episode with a nightmare about something happening to Grace, and her uneasiness comes to a head when she finds that, while in a meeting, she missed 12 calls from her daughter in a short span of time – and gets no response when she calls her back. That might be cause for any parent to worry a bit, but for a high-profile family like the Florricks, the situation is heightened. Lockhart/Gardner is involved with a case in which a white supremacist is killing witnesses, and Peter may have made any number of enemies during his work as State’s Attorney. The flip side of this, of course, is that they also have more resources than most families. Peter gets the chief of police in his office within minutes, it seems, and orders him to start a search without waiting the usual amount of time to declare a missing person. But Alicia has Kalinda, and she’s the one who finds Grace – not kidnapped at all, but at a church secretly getting baptized.
The “kidnapping” may have been a false alarm, but it was also a literal manifestation of Alicia’s fears about short-changing her children by giving attention to her career and her relationship. Something has to go – and for now, at least, it’s the relationship. At the end of the episode, she breaks things off with Will, telling him that “it’s too much.” Will, on the other hand, spent Grace’s disappearance realizing that he had no official way to show concern or be publicly supportive of Alicia, and wound up considering whether commitment and kids might be something he wanted after all. (It’s nice that the male characters on this show struggle with work/life balance and the concept of “having it all” almost as much as the women do.) Diane sees the break-up and assumes that it was Will who ended things, as she’d instructed. She tells him, “You did the right thing. She’ll get over it,” and when Will replies “Yep. She will,” his unspoken “but I won’t” comes through to the audience – but not to Diane – loud and clear.
Could the kidnapping scare also make Alicia reconsider her career decisions? Canning promises her that he, too, is family-oriented, so his lawyers are home to have dinner with their kids every night. Alicia’s main objection is that she doesn’t like Canning’s clients. In a nice usage of current terms, Canning admits that his clients are part of “the 1 percent.” (There was another Occupy Wall Street reference when Alicia took pictures of a college bulletin board of political events.) He tells her about some of the good they’ve done with their money, though, and by now Alicia can’t have too rosy an image of Lockhart/Gardner’s clientele, either. And this gives Alicia an almost shockingly simple solution to her problems: If she divorced Peter and left Lockhart/Gardner to work for Canning, she would have more time with her children and be able to openly date Will. I can’t really come up with a practical reason why she shouldn’t do this – unless she’s just not yet ready to stop punishing herself or to allow herself to be happy.
Kate Linnea Welsh is a New Hampshire-based writer and taxonomist. (No, that doesn’t involve dead animals.) She’s a senior editor at TheTelevixen.com, on staff at Vampire-Diaries.net, and writes about other TV shows, books, and more at her blog (http://katelinnea.blogspot.com). She’d love to talk to you on Twitter: @katelinnea